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Justice fills 3 school board seats, SBA director role


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A day after announcing his appointment of West Virginia Board of Education member Bill White to a new role, Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday that he’d be filling White’s seat and two other state school board seats with former longtime county school system administrators.

The new state school board members are former Putnam County superintendent Chuck Hatfield, former Hardy County superintendent Barbara Whitecotton and former Raleigh County assistant superintendent of support services Miller Hall. They’ll be sworn in at next month’s board meeting, according to a news release.

 Hall said he retired Tuesday — state law requires that state board members not work for the state or its political subdivisions. He said he planned to retire at the end of this school year anyway and run for the Raleigh school board, but now has a chance to serve the whole state.

The appointments for three of the nine seats with voting power on the board come after Justice — during his inauguration speech last week following a successful campaign that was short on specifics — held up a blue booklet.

“Today, I have an education plan right here,” the Democrat said, “that I’m going to submit immediately for people to review. It’s going to be the elimination of a bunch of unnecessary agencies, it’s going to be a look at education in a different way that has never been looked at for a long, long, long time.”

The governor still hasn’t released details about the plan.

Also Tuesday, Justice appointed former Wyoming County schools superintendent Bucky Blackwell as executive director of the state School Building Authority. The authority uses state general revenue, bond proceeds and lottery money to fund school construction and renovation projects around the state.

Blackwell will replace David Sneed, who retired last month.

The news release was unclear on exactly whose school board terms the three new appointees will be filling. Justice spokesman Grant Herring didn’t return requests for comment Tuesday afternoon, and Department of Education spokeswoman Kristin Anderson deferred comment to the Governor’s Office.

Justice can’t replace board members with unexpired terms except in cases of “official misconduct, incompetence, neglect of duty or gross immorality,” as outlined in state law.

The law also restricts the board’s membership to having two or three members from each congressional district, and no more than five members from any political party.

Board attorney Mary Catherine Tuckwiller said it’s clear that Hall will be filing White’s seat. Both are from the 3rd Congressional District. White’s unfinished term ends Nov. 4, 2019.

Hatfield and Whitecotton will seemingly fill the seats previously occupied by former first lady Gayle Manchin, whose term expired Nov. 4, 2015, and Tina Combs, a Berkeley County resident whose term expired last year but had continued to attend board meetings.

Under that likely appointment scenario, the board would have two women, Whitecotton and Beverly Kingery, and one African American, Hall.

In the news release, Justice — who criticized unspecified education “bureaucrats” in his inauguration speech — described his board appointees as “educators” rather than “bureaucrats” themselves.

 “The politicians and bureaucrats in Charleston have failed to listen to our teachers, so I appointed three educators with significant classroom experience to the state Board of Education,” Justice said. “Miller Hall, Barbara Whitecotton, and Chuck Hatfield have dedicated their lives to improving public education, and on the state Board of Education, they will help me deliver results for students across West Virginia.

“They all share my vision for making education the centerpiece of our state.”

Hatfield, at least, has publicly disagreed in recent years with the positions of the state school board and Department of Education leaders — the leaders Justice may be dubbing “bureaucrats.”

Hatfield retired last year after serving as Putnam’s superintendent for about a dozen years. He worked for more than four decades in Putnam’s school system, starting as a substitute teacher in 1973 before becoming principal of Eastbrook Elementary in 1980. He later served in various central office roles before becoming superintendent in 2004. His former assistant superintendent, Cindy Daniel, now is a deputy state schools superintendent.

Hatfield has been critical of state mandates related to the Common Core math and English language arts standards — education requirements that West Virginia’s standards are still mostly identical to. In January 2015, he blamed the integrated math courses that came to the state alongside Common Core for his school system’s loss of “top-notch” math teachers and declining student test scores in math.

The state board has since allowed school systems to choose between using the integrated math classes — Math I, II and III — or returning to the traditional course structure of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II.

Hatfield was also part of a commission that state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano established to give him recommendations on standardized testing. The commission supported moving away from the current, Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced standardized tests and explored replacing them with the ACT and other tests developed by ACT.

Hatfield criticized Smarter Balanced for how it portrayed his students’ math proficiency as lower compared to ACT.

The current state board has so far stuck with Smarter Balanced despite lawmakers’ past attempts to dump Smarter Balanced and their preference for ACT. Earlier this month, the state board took actions to possibly move away from Smarter Balanced in the future, but Martirano has expressed hesitancy to use ACT.

Hall also worked in his county system for more than 40 years, including as a principal, assistant principal and social studies teacher at Woodrow Wilson High. He joined the Raleigh school system central office in 1999. In various positions, he oversaw student discipline, middle and high school curriculum and child nutrition, maintenance and transportation.

“I pretty much ran the gamut. I pretty much did it all,” Hall said.

In 2000, Justice served on the Raleigh school board for several months. Hall donated $700 to Justice’s campaign and also campaigned for him, and Justice named him one of the chairmen of the governor’s public education transition policy committee.

Whitecotton, according to the news release, retired last year. She was Hardy’s superintendent for eight years, its assistant superintendent for three years and previously taught students with disabilities.

Blackwell, the new SBA executive director, served as Wyoming County’s superintendent from 1982 until last year, according to the news release. Along with his nearly half-century in education, he served seven years in the state House of Delegates.

Blackwell was also named a member of Justice’s public education transition policy committee. He gave the maximum-allowed $2,000 to Justice’s campaign. His daughter, Audra Blackwell, also donated $2,000 to Justice and was given a position on Justice’s energy and environment transition policy committee. She is a business manager with Energy Systems Group, an Indiana-based energy efficiency consulting company.

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